Dr. Danka Thalmeinerova, GWP’s Knowledge Management Officer, wrote this blog after attending a meeting on September 3-4, 2012, hosted by Finland, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention).
The Water Convention is a typical international “framework” instrument, the primary purpose of which is to foster international cooperation of transboundary water resources in the wider European region. This relatively “young” instrument has already significantly influenced the management of transboundary waters in Europe in a number of ways. UNECE Executive Secretary Sven Alkalaj emphasized in his speech that the Convention has been a key driver for cooperation after the turbulent the political movements and collapse of the Soviet Union and federal Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Overnight, several new countries found themselves having to jointly manage shared rivers.
The Water Convention offers many examples of good practice (Sava Commission, Chu-Talas Commission) and should be examined more closely internationally, especially with 2013 having been proclaimed by the UN as the International Year of Water Cooperation. The Convention’s flexibility and responsiveness make it a valuable model for governments to implement integrated water resources management approaches. The UNECE is open to allowing accession by countries outside the UNECE. “The future of the Convention will be defined by its globalization and opening up to countries outside the UNECE region” said Mr. Alkalaj, noting that the Convention “has been an inclusive and engaging approach, involving non-Parties in the work almost as much as Parties.”
Many river basin agreements are based on the Water Convention, such as the Danube River Protection Convention, the agreements on the Meuse, Rhine, Scheldt and Sava Rivers, and, further to the East, the bilateral agreements between countries in Eastern Europe established since the mid-1990s, among them the Kazakh-Russian, Russian-Ukrainian and Moldovan-Ukrainian agreements. Today, 37 countries and the European Union are the Parties to the UNECE Water Convention. Turkmenistan will become the thirty-ninth Party to the Convention on 27 November 2012.
Francesca Bernardini, Secretary of the Water Convention, sees the Convention’s success in developing the means to monitor and assess transboundary waters in the European and Central Asia regions. The Second Assessment of Transboundary Basins was launched at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille in March of this year. The Assessment examines the overall effectiveness of the water regimes. Indicators of the effectiveness of environmental measures still need to be developed at the basin and national levels. These might include data collection and analysis of the reduction or mitigation of pollution or the restoration of wetlands. Ms. Bernardini said that ensuring an objective analysis and evaluation under the auspices of the UNECE has already begun to be developed through pilot programs for monitoring. GWP Mediterranean, GWP Central and Eastern Europe and GWP Central Asia and Caucasus contributed to the development process of the Second Assessment.